When unionist and tycoon lock horns

2010-10-31 11:40

Cosatu boss Zwelinzima Vavi has placed the issue of lavish lifestyle and conspicuous consumption in the realm of public ­debate.

The issue has come under ­the spotlight this week following a highly publicised spat between Vavi and businessman Kenny Kunene over Kunene’s expensive birthday party.

This week Vavi told a civil society summit, convened by Cosatu in Boksburg, that the lavish lifestyles and parties of the elite put pressure on civil servants to live outside their means.

“The corrupting of the morality of our public representatives is seen in these parties ...  It is the sight of these parties where the elite display their wealth, often secured in questionable methods, that turn my stomach.

It is the spitting on the face of the poor and insulting their integrity that makes me sick,” Vavi said at the summit.

However, this crusade is seen by those at its receiving end as a form of bullying and an attempt to dictate to them how they should spend their money.

Kunene has argued Vavi’s attack amounts to an attempt to “criminalise” black wealth and to create the impression that all black wealth is ill-gotten.

While it is easy to be carried away by the spectacle of the ugly public spat between Vavi and Kunene, what is at stake here is the issue of the values that should define our nascent democracy.

How do we send a message of solidarity and care for fellow underprivileged citizens without creating the impression that it is inherently evil for the emerging elite to spend its money like its ­counterparts elsewhere in the world?

Differently put, is there a justification for expecting our well-heeled to embrace a different brand of morality simply ­because we share a history of hardship?

“My message to people is to say never allow yourself to be bullied.

It’s not wrong to dream big, but when you are blessed, bless others so you can enjoy your own blessings with a clear conscience that you have made a difference in other ­people’s lives,” Kunene said.

However, the Sandton businessman is not the only one who has shown the ­propensity to display his toys and wealth.

Those who have recently acquired wealth usually show up at high-profile ceremonies with the symbols of their wealth such as flashy cars and designer labels.

Businessman Khulubuse Zuma, who reportedly owns 19 cars, travelled to ­national police commissioner Bheki Cele’s wedding at Pennington’s Lynton Hall on the South Coast in a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG that cost at least R2.4 million while workers at his Aurora mine went for months without their salaries.

At Cele’s lavish wedding, the guestlist included President Jacob Zuma, a few Cabinet ministers and Orlando Pirates boss Irvin Khoza.

Members of Parliament and some ANC leaders were also seen attending ­businessman Robert Gumede’s R50-million­ wedding.

Most of those who attended these ­weddings were also at Zuma’s ­­spokes­person­­­’s Zizi Kodwa’ birthday party earlier this year.

Alth­ough socialite Khanyi Mbau does not have any political obligations, her parties tend to attract the same crowd.

Political analyst Steven Friedman backed Vavi.

Friedman asked whether Kunene and his ilk ever thought about what message their spending on parties send to the ­populace.

These parties, Friedman said, sent a message that people with money could spend it in greater quantity and this might as well be an invitation to those without money to become criminals.

“It is a great problem for our society. I think Vavi is correct,” Friedman said.

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